Kwanzaa celebrates African-American culture

Holiday, created in 1966, lasts for 7 days, based on 7 principles.

For some, the day after Christmas means taking down the decorations. For others, it is a time to put them up.

Around the world, people are celebrating Kwanzaa, an African-American celebration of culture, heritage and returning to African roots, Multicultural Center graduate assistant Anthony Head said.

Kwanzaa is based on the agricultural celebrations of Africa called the "first fruits" celebrations which were times of harvest, reverence, commemoration, recommitment and celebration. To achieve this, it focuses on fundamental collective values rooted in African culture and is reflected in the best practices of African-American people.

The holiday, which lasts seven days, consists of a number of activities, including lighting candles, feasting and giving small gifts to children. Head, who celebrates the holiday, said the holiday is more significant than just the way that it is celebrated.

"Besides returning to African roots, it's important because of the seven principles it represents," Head said. "They address the things that are running rampant in our community."

Junior Tenille Jones, who also celebrates the holiday, agrees.

"It celebrates togetherness," Jones said. "It brings unity and confirms that you want to know your history and where you came from. You want to do something to show that unity, family and the community is important, for the present as well as the future."

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 in Oakland, Calif., by Maulana Ronald Karenga, professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University in Long Beach, who saw a need for a holiday to commemorate the African-American culture. The celebration centers around the "Nguzo Saba," or the Seven Principles, to introduce and reinforce the seven basic values of African culture which contribute to the building and reinforcing community among African-American people as well as Africans throughout the world African community.

Each day a candle from the Kinara (the candle holder) is lit to represent each principle: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kuumba (creativity); and Imani (faith).

Greetings during Kwanzaa are done in Swahili, a Pan-African language chosen to reflect African-Americans' commitment to the whole of Africa and its culture, rather than to a specific ethnic or national group or culture. Traditionally, gifts are mainly given to children, but must always include a book and a heritage symbol. The book is to emphasize the African values and tradition of learning stressed since Ancient Egypt, and the heritage symbol is to reaffirm and reinforce the African commitment to nation and history.

Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday but rather a cultural one; therefore it is available to and practiced by Africans of all religious faiths.

Head said the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa are principles that can be applied to everyday life.

"If we incorporate those principles in our daily lives, it would solve a lot of the problems that we have in our community, not just during the holiday season," Head said.


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